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Commentary: Coping with a Post-FDA Cigar Industry

15 Jun 2016

[Below is a follow-up to a previous commentary on the grim FDA situation facing the cigar industry.]

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s cigar regulations will undoubtedly transform the industry, leading to the potential elimination of most sticks introduced after Feb. 15, 2007.

Obviously, that includes a lot great cigars. It also strikes at the heart of what many consumers enjoy about the pastime: discovering new and different cigars.

What it doesn’t have to mean, though, is an end to cigar smoking pleasure. In the words of Buddhist teacher Tara Brach, “A truly happy person is one who can enjoy the scenery on a detour.”

And that’s what we face—a major detour. It’ll require a lot of shifts in the way we think about and approach cigars.

For many, cigar smoking has become subject to the common consumer quest for something new. Indeed, “What’s new?” has got to be the most common question asked by customers at a tobacconist.

Scientists know that humans respond to novelty, and that novelty wears off over time. As professor Aimee Huff, who’s studied the issue, wrote: “the perception of newness is an important part of the consumption experience because it creates short-term value.”

Achieving that experience won’t be nearly as easy if all the FDA restrictions take effect as scheduled. That means we’ll have to adjust our approach.

For starters, instead of asking the clerk, “What’s new?” I suggest asking yourself, “What’s new for me?” There are likely to be hundreds of pre-2007 cigars you or I haven’t tried. Sure, maybe we don’t want to try half of them, but that still leaves a lot to check out.

Another approach is to thoroughly examine what it is about certain cigars that you enjoy most and look for others that match or come close. Some of them could be pre-2007 cigars, some may be among those that make it through the vetting process.

Thinking carefully about what you enjoy may also make it easier to find satisfaction with a smaller number of lines.

A return to the days when most cigar smokers stopped by their local shop periodically for the same box of, say, Romeo y Julieta or Montecristo, seems highly improbable, regardless of what happens. But continuing to sample a new release every week or so seems an equally remote possibility.

I, for one, intend to go on smoking and enjoying cigars, regardless of the obstacles. If I have to make an attitude adjustment in order to do it, I’ll make the effort.

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Cigar Review: Crux Limitada PB5

13 Jun 2016

The first limited release from Crux, this lightly box-pressed beauty comes in one size and showcases a well-aged wrapper leaf.

PB5That tobacco, called Engañoso, came from the Plascencia factory where it had been aging for seven years, according to Crux. The company bought it all, and it was another two-and-a-half years before the PB5 blend was finalized.

Crux isn’t disclosing much information about the tobaccos in the cigar. Here’s what I got from them: “The blend includes tobacco (though not exclusively) from Nicaragua and Honduras.”

The name reflects some of the journey to create it. The “PB” is a recognition of the individuals involved in creating the cigar, Crux said, and the “5” refers to the number of test blends sampled before the end result was achieved.

The cigars recently began to arrive on retailers’ shelves. Crux produced 500 boxes of 10 with a retail price of about $12 per stick. They believe they have enough wrapper left to keep production going for up to five years.

That’s good news. Because if you miss the opportunity to try one this time around, you’ll get another chance.

Since its initial offering a couple of years ago, Minnesota-based Crux has brought out one good cigar after another. The web site now lists 10 lines, from one that features diminutive dimensions (4 x 32) to another sporting considerable length and girth (6 x 60).

The Limitada PB5 is 5.75 inches long with a ring gauge of 54. The samples I smoked, supplied by Crux, had excellent burns, good smoke production, and a near-perfect draw.

The wrapper presents a mouth-watering nutty pre-light aroma.

From the beginning, it is a balanced and complex smoke, kicking off with some cedar and pepper to grab your attention. Other flavors along the way include nuts, wood, and leather, with the intensity of the pepper rising and falling throughout. There are points, too, when a bit of sweetness moves forward as a counterpoint.

Strength falls somewhere in the medium- to full-bodied range. It’s by no means a power bomb, but it is certainly strong enough to satisfy most smokers.

I would say the Limitada PB5 was among the most enjoyable new cigars I’ve tried so far in 2016. I heartily recommend giving the Limitada PB5 a try, whether you’re a new smoker or an old-timer. For me, it rates four stogies out of five.

[To read more StogieGuys.com cigar reviews, please click here.]

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Quick Smoke: Leaf By Oscar Corojo Toro

4 Jun 2016

Each Saturday and Sunday we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”

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First, it’s necessary to get past the gimmicky wrapped-in-a-cigar-leaf packaging. Fortunately, that’s not difficult. Just tear it off and, voilà, there’s a cigar. What I found was a nice-looking Honduran puro with typical toro dimensions (6 x 50). Billed as mild to medium in strength, the Leaf by Oscar Corojo brimmed with the leather and earth often associated with Honduran tobacco. Smoke production was excellent, as were the draw and burn. It’s not a flavor profile I’d want to smoke routinely, but a stick to reach for when something a little different would fill the bill.

Verdict = Buy.

George E

photo credit: Leaf by Oscar

Commentary: One Man’s Grim Opinion of the FDA Situation

1 Jun 2016

If the cigar industry needed any more bad news, it could be found recently in a couple of unrelated developments that involve sugar rather than tobacco.

U.S. District Judge Edward Chen turned down a request by the powerful American Beverage Association for a temporary injunction against San Francisco’s requirement that some soft drink advertising include warnings about the dangers of consuming drinks with added sugar.

An abridgment of freedom of speech? No. A potentially fatal and unfair blow to the industry? No. Regulation in the public interest? Yes.

Then the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced its new nutrition facts food label with an additional category: added sugars.

Now, to be clear, there is a world of difference between these actions involving sugar and the FDA’s tobacco restrictions. And there is sure to be more court action on the soft drink front, as there will be against the FDA’s tobacco rules.

But I believe the moves on sugar are indicative of the legal trajectory.

Here’s why I think the cigar fight against the FDA is, sadly, doomed. (Remember, this is just my view. No one else’s from this site.)

First, despite the outcry that government regulations are taking away our rights, there’s little doubt that there is no “right” to smoke tobacco, and certainly not one that can’t be curtailed. Legal challenges to smoking prohibitions based on a recognized constitutional right (be it privacy, property, or equal protection) have generally failed.

Additionally, the legality of a product doesn’t shield it from restrictions or a ban. Just ask those who live in one of the United States’ remaining dry counties. Up until 1914, cocaine was legal. Caffeinated alcohol drinks were legally sold a few years ago until the government decided they shouldn’t be.

Examples are endless.

Then there is the frequent complaint of a “war on tobacco.” There isn’t a war. There was a war. Tobacco lost. We’re now in the aftermath.

Petitions underway in the cigar community seem, to me, unlikely to accomplish anything. One, urging the White House to act, may garner enough signatures, though I doubt it. But even if successful, it will induce only reconsideration, not action. A reversal or exemption would require a monumental change. The chances of that are slim and none, and, as they say, Slim already left town.

(By the way, are you looking to the future? It’s hard to distinguish which presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, dislikes tobacco more.)

Demanding congressional action also appears dubious. Congress didn’t approve an exemption in the past when it would have been much easier. Why expect it to do so now?

Cutting off funding for enforcement, as has been proposed, seems to me little more than a replay of the earlier Congressional move to include an exemption in its funding bill: a bargaining chip to be traded for something else. And even if a funding halt were to be approved, the FDA could likely go right back to work with new funding in the future.

I think the most likely outcome to the FDA regulations is legal action that slows, but doesn’t stop, the process.

Perhaps my years in Washington made me too cynical. Maybe I am just too negative in general.

I hope so. I can’t think of anything that would bring me more joy than writing another piece with the headline: I Was Wrong.

George E

photo credit: N/A

Quick Smoke: La Palina Red Label Toro

21 May 2016

Each Saturday and Sunday we’ll post a Quick Smoke: not quite a full review, just our brief verdict on a single cigar of “buy,” “hold,” or “sell.”

Red Label Toro

As a longtime fan of La Palina, I was looking forward to trying the Red Label, a line introduced in 2015. I knew it was a lighter complement to the fuller-strength Black Label. It wasn’t the lack of strength that made the biggest impression, though. It was the lack of flavor. For the Toro’s full six inches, about the only thing I experienced was an overwhelming hot, dry, grassy rawness. The Ecuadorian Habano wrapper, Ecuadorian binder, and Nicaraguan and Dominican filler blend just didn’t suit my palate. Construction, burn, and draw were fine. Overall, however, I found the Red Label to be more of a red flag.

Verdict = Sell.

George E

photo credit: La Palina

News: Small Players in Cigar Industry Vow to Keep Going

18 May 2016

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Uncertainty. Apprehension. Determination.

These seem to sum up the feelings of some of the smaller players in the cigar world. Small players whose business will be greatly impacted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s new tobacco regulations. In statements both on and off the record, those who create and market boutique cigar expressed both anger and resolve to StogieGuys.com.

“You have to play the hand the best you can with what you have,” said Jeff Haugen, co-owner of Crux Cigars. “We’re going to have to adapt.”

While some were reluctant to openly discuss the potential impact or their plans, others were blunt.

“It’s a mess,” said Sandra Cobas, owner of the highly regarded cigar manufacturer El Titan de Bronze, located in Miami’s Little Havana since 1997. Cobas is confident she’ll be able to remain in business, but “it won’t be the same.”

Particularly troubling for her is the Feb. 15, 2007, grandfather date on which cigars had to be on the market to qualify for an exemption from regulation. While El Titan’s four lines should qualify, many of the smokes she produces for other brands will not. And that means her current level of eight to twelve employees will almost certainly shrink. “These are working people,” she said. “It’s very upsetting. Very upsetting.”

The economic impact will be widespread, she added, ticking off those impacted, from tobacco growers to box makers, cigar band lithographers to glue manufacturers.

“How about in Estelí? How about in the Dominican?” where cigar-making has boomed in recent years, she said. “They think they’ve got an immigration problem now? They don’t know what they’ll have.”

Mel Shah realizes his MBombay cigars will also face the full thrust of the regulations because they came to market only a couple years ago. Just what the FDA’s approval process will be, or how much it will cost, however, remains uncertain.

“Everything that we hear right now… it’s all speculation,” said Shah. “They’re going to charge this, they’re not going to charge this. The whole nine yards. There is nothing… in black and white as to how much it’s going to cost us. Once we have that, then it will be a more definitive strategy.”

Shah’s position as owner of both a cigar brand and a cigar shop (Fame Wine & Cigar Lounge in Palm Springs, California) provides a well-rounded perspective.

As a measure of what lies ahead, he noted that about 70 percent of the cigars on retailers’ shelves these days were introduced after 2007.

The FDA regulations, scheduled to go into effect this summer, offer a small window for cigars that aren’t grandfathered. Those on the market before Aug. 8 can remain on sale until Aug. 8, 2018, before having to apply for approval.

That’s led to conjecture that brand owners will rush cigars to market in order to take advantage. But Haugen, and others, said that’s not their plan.

“We’re certainly not going to knee-jerk any reactions of which way we’re going to move,” Haugen said, noting that all Crux lines are post-2007. “I’m not interested in just jamming a bunch of brands out there to get something going.”

One point of agreement was that, while it’s too soon to know the full impact, they will survive.

Most, in fact, echoed the sentiment of Ernesto Perez Carrillo in his response to the FDA: “We are here to stay.”

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Book Review: The Cigar: Moments of Pleasure

9 May 2016

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Spectacular.

That is the only word I can think of to adequately describe this large-format, colorful book that explores every imaginable facet of cigars.

The Cigar: Moments of Pleasure is a book that could come only from someone who loves cigars, or, in this case, two people who love cigars. Morten Ehrhorn (writer) and Justin Hummerston (photographer) spent five years traveling the world to explore cigars, tobacco, and those who love them. Interestingly, the pair is based in Denmark, known in the tobacco world far more for its relationship to pipes than to cigars.

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But you’d have a difficult time finding a book with more or better cigar information. Far too many coffee-table books of all kinds are heavy on photographs and light on written material; far too many cigar books offer little more than a rehash of accepted wisdom and twice-told tales. Not so with The Cigar.

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The book is truly an exhaustive and extensive presentation. Sure, we’re all familiar with photos of fields in Pinar del Río, say, but how about a look at tobacco curing houses in Indonesia? In another spot, you’ll find six pages devoted to soil. Then there’s a meticulous exploration of the effects of nicotine on the brain, not to mention all the interesting tidbits throughout. Did you know, for example, that Cuban cigars are packaged in the box with the darker wrappers on the left side?

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In fact, I can’t think of any aspect of cigars that Enrhorn and Hummerston missed. The book is, literally, 312 pages of fascination.

For a cigar lover, simply opening the book is to be captivated, drawn in, and captured.

The Cigar: Moments of Pleasure is published by the award-winning Copenhagen firm Forlaget Enrhorn Hummerston and can be purchased on Amazon, as well as at online retailer Cigars International.

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You’ll also have a chance to win the review copy we received from the publisher in the coming weeks. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for details on that and other giveaways.

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys